A Beautiful Mess

There was a time, I seem to remember, when I was a fairly "together" kind of person.  I maintained tidy work spaces, had legitimate organizational methods, and obsessed about minor details.  (Okay, I still do that last part.)  I had the luxury, way back when, of maintaining order at a more professional level.

I'm sure you can guess what happened.

(That's just one more on the way.  In case you're confused.  We just like to be surprised on the birth day and prepared with a tiny onesie in either case.)

As we've added children, our lives have gotten fuller, both in the emotional sense of having more love and all that jazz, but also in the very real, physical sense because we have more stuff, schedules, and personalities to navigate.  As the years have progressed I've had to teach myself to delegate.  (Actually, my much-wiser-than-me husband not-so-subtly suggested that it was imperative to include our children in the household duties for lots and lots of very good reasons, not the least of which was that I was running myself ragged and not accomplishing much despite doing so.)

For example, I delegated towel folding to my eldest who picked up the folding torch and keeps the stacks nice and uniform, facing the right direction.  He, in turn, delegated the task of carrying the nice, neat stacks to the bathroom cabinets to his younger siblings who actually seem to enjoy running around like tiny delivery people.  The part that makes me itchy is when these younger helpers insist on doing some folding on their own.  The stacks are less uniform, almost never facing the right direction.  But they are folded.  And no longer on my fireplace.  Or favorite green chair.  Or on my laundry room floor.  Lord knows I need all of those places for the next load of unfolded, but clean laundry.  And so, I concede to the imperfection.

Another chore of utmost importance is doing the dishes.  I have not clung to many formalities in our large family life, but eating off of legitimate plates with actual silverware is one that, save for an occasional backyard picnic or pizza and movie night in the living room, I just cannot let go.  As you can probably infer, this means we load and unload the dishwasher on pretty much a constant basis.  True to my own personality type (or flaws, whatever), I had a difficult time delegating because I had particular ways of doing things (like loading the plates in a certain direction) and I wanted to be able to actually find the dishes, etc. that were unloaded.  We started with unloading only.  I would stand (or hover, depending who you talk to) over and watch as the younger ones attempted to comb their hair with clean forks before putting them in the drawer or touch their mouths to the clean cups before placing them in the cabinet.  Gentle correction remedied these minor transgressions.  For the most part, they do a fantastic job.  They've broken no more dishes than their spaz mother manages to break and things are generally where they belong (even if I can almost never find a colander), despite the fact they might not be put away exactly how I'd like them to be.

Tonight, as I was about to prepare my nightly cup of water (so I can chug it at bedtime and then proceed to get up every hour all night with an urgent need to pee - why? why do I do that?), I opened the cabinet and chuckled.

The stories this cabinet could tell.  Who looks in a cup cabinet and gets nostalgic?  Me.  That's who.  The days of perfectly-cut shelf paper and matching, organized glassware are a distant memory, but the remnants of 15+ years of my life carry on this cabinet.  A cup I used as a pencil holder when I was a senior in high school after selecting Mercer as my college destination.  Free cups from Mercer events, including a customized one from my freshman RA.  Preakness glasses that, ironically, Sam got on a business trip to Baltimore but that remind me of "home."  A few, yet unbroken, glasses from a set that we picked out at Ross when our college glasses dwindled.  A set of stemware that our girls use to drink ginger ale out of when they're feeling particularly fancy.  A lovely set of platinum rimmed tea glasses that were gifted to me from family.  A cup from Publix when we went trick-or-treating there with our brood.  Small juice cups that mostly serve as dippers on our watercolor painting days.  A giant plastic football cup from the last event ever held at the Georgia Dome.

Mostly, though, I see the crazy, upside-down, right-side-up randomness, and it makes me smile.  That's not something I ever imagined I'd say.  This insane cup cabinet tells the story of my crazy, upside-down, right-side-up, random family.  It's messy.  It's imperfect.  Some days, it's seriously upside-down.  Some might call it chaotic.  The thing is, it's us.  It's teamwork.  There's beauty in that mess.  There usually is.  Given the choice or the chance, I wouldn't trade it for perfectly-cut shelf paper and matchy-matchy.  This is the beautiful mess God has given me.
Family life is a bit like a runny peach pie — not perfect but who’s complaining? ~Robert Brault

Only Kindness Matters

For as long as I can remember, I have cared too much.  About everything.  I get bogged down in details and feelings and hypotheticals and I lose sleep and I emote excessively.  It's the reason I was awake all night a couple of weeks ago (and several times since then, in fact).  I followed a conversation started by a friend on social media that seemed to civilly and genuinely tackle one of the hot button topics of the times.  In my sincere desire to understand why people think so differently from each other, I read the comments.  And there were many.  As things tend to, especially online, tensions quickly escalated, people began making assumptions and blanket statements, and then the name calling ensued.  End productive conversation.

I find myself grieving the loss of civility in people I know and love and feeling crushed by the words and opinions of people I do not even know. 

One comment, a puny ten words or less, from a person whom I've never met kept me awake for a solid night because I wasn't able to separate real life from virtual "reality."  What I am unable to do is distinguish hastily typed (or even carefully selected) words in the midst of an online debate from a personal attack on my character or choices.  I guess I'm still that little girl seeking everyone's approval.  Even strangers.  On the INTERNET.  Lesson to learn:  People I don't know cannot speak for me or about me.  Even if it feels like it, no one is personally attacking me

I don't know anyone in day to day life, literally, not ONE SINGLE PERSON, who is advocating for divisiveness, hate, and vitriol.  Granted, my world is small, and I recognize that fully.  But, my dearest friends and family members from all sides of faith and politics are calling for peace and kindness.  This being the case, how is it that we're getting nowhere?  Is it that peace and kindness look different to each of us?

And what can I, Jennie with the tiny circle of influence, do about it?

Seriously, if you've got ideas, I'm all ears.  Text me.  Email.  Send me a postcard.  Pop in, you can help me fold towels.

I've unplugged from my major addiction for a spell.  It's been quiet, and embarrassingly enough, a little lonely.  I have relied on a manufactured virtual community to fill my need for actual friends for far too long.  I don't want to be the ostrich who buries her head in the sand and pretends everything is okay.  I know better than that.  But I cannot accept that people are online who they are in real life.  I cannot believe the hatred and animosity coming out of the mouths of friends are the same things they'd say to me in a face to face conversation. 

So, come on, let's talk.  Face to face.  Amidst the syrup drips still on the table from breakfast.  And the crumbs still on the floor from lunch.  I'll probably cry.  Because I'm embarrassed of the mess, but mostly because that's who I am.  Please, let's just all remember that the words we speak affect actual people.  As much as we feel opinions define our character, I believe that the way we present our opinions, regardless of what they are, matters just as much if not more.  In the end, only kindness matters.

My cry and prayer is a grieved one.  Forgive us, Jesus, because we're so far gone.  And yet, even still, knowing how awful we are, every one of us (and believe me, I'm the worst!), you deemed us worth pursuing and loving.  Thank you isn't enough.  Thank you.


Nailed It

Since the public schools went back today, I decided to follow suit and [finally] get back to our daily routine.  I confess to being hopelessly behind.  I know, I know.  Same story, different year.  Only this year, it's beyond behind.  It's embarrassing.  Despite my declaration of authenticity for 2017, I will give no further details other than to say we embarked on our January schooling with a sense of panic and dread.

One positive thing is that we are all consistently behind together.  {Think we can make up four months of work in the last five months of the year?!  Don't answer that.}

After a late breakfast of honey buns (a stellar start to the day I know) and about an hour of reading time, I sternly informed my children we were going to have our history discussion.  Then they would each complete a math lesson before we ate lunch.  "AND, don't dare ask me what we're having for lunch!" I warned them.  I'm not sure why, but the constant inquisition as to what we're having for our next meal makes me want to throw things.  To prevent that from happening, I beat them to the punch with a preemptive prohibition.  Opening our history book to read aloud, I told them we were finally moving on from the Civil War (where we parked for a long time, on purpose, because, well, there are a million fascinating things to park on). Today's discussion would be about the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, happening about the same time that the Civil War ended in the United States.

We read and talked about how Lopez's Paraguayan army had some good ideas about attacking with their fast, agile river fleet against Brazil's slower maneuvering ocean fleet, how the Paraguayan army eventually got pushed back up the river and the whole country became land-locked and eventually cut off from supplies and faced starvation.  We discussed how it was risky for Lopez to attack other countries, particularly large, powerful ones and especially considering his own people were so disunited to begin with.  We talked about the social classes within the Latin countries, how they were made up of three main people groups; native South Americans, former African slaves, and Creoles.

Me:  What's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Me:  We talked about this in our last history book.  Remember when the Spanish came and conquered most of South America?
(still staring, small glimmer of something familiar in their eyes)
Abby:  So that's why most people in South America speak Spanish?
Me:  Yes.  So what's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Abby: (venturing a hesitant guess)  A Korean War Hero?


Me:  No, a creole is someone of Spanish decent, a spanish colonist born in South America.  We'll just keep going.

We continued the discussion about how cholera decimated the Paraguayan troops.

Sarah:  What's that?
Me:  It was basically an intestinal worm that made you very sick.  And it was highly contagious.  Now we have antibiotics that can kill the bacteria, but back then they did not.  It caused you to become sick and get weaker and weaker until you died.  But we don't have to worry about that here and now.

Then we discussed whether Lopez was a patriotic hero for Paraguay or an insane dictator drunk on power.

In closing I asked each kid to tell me one thing they learned today.

Sarah:  I learned that worms eat your intestines.
Abby:  I learned that most people in South America speak Spanish.
Ben:  I learned that God doesn't always smite dictators by saying (dramatic God voice), "Fire and ash will rain down upon thee!"
Me: (my turn to blank stare)  Interesting.  Okay, move on to math.
Ben:  So (smug smile), what's for lunch?

Ordinarily, my instinctual anger would have reared it's ugly head.

Today, I laughed.

Maybe it's not perfect, but this is us.  #Authenticity

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